The Big Bendigo Crock of Ages Quest

It was an epic weekend, one that tested my patience, my sanity and my navigational skills.  Over the course of two days, I was pushed to the absolute limit, before being dangled over the precipice for an extended period as my knuckles turned white.  Looking back, I’m not sure how I survived.  Having seen ‘The Sixth Sense’ several times, I’m not entirely sure if I survived.  That’s because I spent a whole weekend watching sport.  In Bendigo.

I’m not really a sports fan.  I realize that’s an odd thing to say, but I’m profoundly averse to investing emotionally in something over which I have absolutely no control.  Plus, as a kid I went to the football with my father and witnessed firsthand the kind of emotional mayhem that comes with supporting the Essendon Football Club and it put me off the idea for life.  But some are born to sport.  Others have sport thrust open them.  That’s how I ended up in Bendigo.

I realize that some people will be drawn to speculate as to which sport I devoted my entire weekend.  Darts?  Polo?  Or some kind of revolutionary combination of both darts and polo that sees riders hurl small metal missives at each other as they canter from one end of the paddock to the other?  Unfortunately not.  Instead, I went to watch soccer.  Played by ten year olds.

I know.  The first thing about watching soccer in the company of other people who really, really like soccer is that you mustn’t, under any circumstance, call it ‘soccer’.  In fact, calling it ‘soccer’ – even if only by accident – is the quickest way to reveal that you’re a total and utter fraud.  Rather, the beautiful game must at all times be referred to as ‘football’. 

We were attending a soccer / football tournament somewhere north of Bendigo.  As we travelled, Liam celebrated his tenth birthday in the backseat of the car by confiscating my phone and selecting a playlist.  The results were not so much musical as they were harrowing.  Before our trip, I’d heard the name ‘Bo Burnham’ in passing.  Now I hope never to hear it again.  Ever.

We drove through town whilst being tailgated by a large, white Mercedes driven by a lady with massive sunglasses and even bigger hair.  Clearly, she’d travelled up from Melbourne.  According to Katrina, who was navigating, we were nearing our destination.  Then, without warning, I saw the words: ‘Bendigo Pottery’.  It was a sign.  Albeit one that just said ‘Bendigo Pottery’ but a sign nevertheless.  Finally, I could redeem myself.

My parents owned a bread crock from Bendigo Pottery.  I’ve no idea why.  A ‘bread crock’ is, as names go, about half right.  In essence, it was a giant ceramic jar with a lid in which you stored your bread.  Occasionally, bread would go into the bread crock and return in a state I can only describe as ‘green and furry’.  The only thing worse than owning a bread crock, though, is owning a slate floor.

I was ten at the time.  Instead of playing soccer (I mean ‘football’) I was playing ‘Charlie’ in the Tyabb Primary School production of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.  During our sold-out run of two shows, I tapped into Charlie Bucket’s heart of darkness and delivered an acclaimed performance for the ages.  But it left me exhausted.  It was whilst in this fugue state that I dropped the lid of the bread crock at which point it fractured into a million pieces on the slate floor.  Now, four decades on, I had a chance to get a new bread crock.

That idea lasted about five seconds, with five seconds being roughly the amount of time it took for me to mention that I’d really like to go to Bendigo Pottery and for Liam to remind me it was his birthday and there was no chance in hell he’d be spending it looking at pottery.  He smashed my dreams as surely as I had smashed the lid to the bread crock.

The tournament was a big deal.  There were cars everywhere and you could tell how uncomfortable some were to drive on gravel.  Others were shocked at the distance required to reach the nearest comfort station.  One parent decided to take matters and possibly something else into his own hands and wandered off into the long grass to answer a call of nature.  It seemed an unnecessary risk.  They probably don’t get many snakes in his part of Melbourne.

On the first day of the tournament, I watched four football games.  Which doubled my lifetime total.  Liam’s team won all four matches.  On the second day, there were two more matches, the first of which they won, the second of which they lost in a penalty shootout.  There was crying.  There was wailing and the gnashing of teeth.  Some of the children were also upset.  Eventually, I pulled myself together.

I may not know much about soccer / football, but I know I felt extremely proud that day as we drove back to Melbourne, a giant white Mercedes tail-gaiting as we went.  It was an epic and wonderful weekend.  Even if losing on penalties is a complete (bread ) crock.  Happy birthday, Liam.

All Hail Me: Mega Bowling-Lord Extraordinaire

It was, to put it mildly, unexpected.  On an evening on which I anticipated keeping a very low profile, I ended up being crowned king and supreme ruler.  Had I known that a simple afternoon at a lawn bowls club would end with my coronation if not deification, I would probably have worn a better shirt.  But some are born to greatness.  Others have greatness thrust upon them.  And then there’s the rest of us for whom greatness just rolls along as it pleases until it comes to a gradual resting touch.  So it is with lawn bowls. 

This was the second time I’d ever set foot inside a bowls club.  The first was decades ago in St Kilda to see one of my all time favourite bands, You Am I, play.  Although they may well be terrific lawn bowlers for all I know, they stuck to playing rock music.  And, as music goes, it was a great gig but it wasn’t much of a sporting event.  Which, in retrospect, made my decision to dress in bowling whites all the more unfortunate.  I’ll only say that I was misinformed as the venue entry requirements.  Besides the ensuing mockery, I’ll simply say that bowling whites will always come off second best in a mosh pit.  Always.

But this time, my visit to a lawn bowls club was different.  This was no late night gig but an afternoon that would casually slip into the evening by which time spirits would be high and great sporting achievements would be honoured.  My partner plays football.  In fact, she plays football really, really well.  And this year, her football club’s end of season shindig was being held at a local bowling green.  Naturally, I went as her ‘plus one’. 

I say ‘football’ instead of ‘soccer’ because I quickly learned that referring to God’s own game as ‘soccer’ is akin to referring to Penfold’s Grange as ‘go-juice’ whilst drinking it from a plastic sippy cup, and is something that only the most ignorant of neophytes would do.  I’ve also learned to refer to potato chips as ‘crisps’ and to ‘Eurovision’ as awesome.  There’s been a lot of talk, too, about the World Cup but, to be honest, I’m still trying to get my head around that one.  All I can tell you is that Meat Loaf won’t be playing at half time.  I know because I expressly asked.

The end of year knees-up was dedicated to celebrating the sporting achievements of the club, whatever form they took.  From great victories and bags of goals and glory, through to narrowly avoiding relegation – the teams within the club had experienced it all.  For my part, I was there as the partner, not the star attraction, which is the role I feel I was born to play.  In attending, my mission was simple: don’t get sunburned and don’t do or say anything embarrassing that would result in being disowned.  It was, without a doubt, a low bar.  As it happens, there was also a low bar directly behind the bowling green that was doing a roaring trade, but I took up a discreet position against a wall and watched.

Early on in the pandemic, I stopped drinking alcohol.  I’m not sure why.  It was event without drama – there was no bottom of the barrel (or bottle) moment.  Rather, it was a gradual loss of interest that was hurried along by a general sense that the world was spiraling out of control.  That was more than two years ago, and I’m still very much enjoying life without it.  But when it comes to lawn bowls, would being sober give me an unfair advantage?

We were broken up into teams.  One of our players had played the game before and another had seen the movie ‘Crackerjack’.  Looking around the room, some of the teams were large, loud and were limbering up.  Given the warm up exercises they were doing, I could only assume that some of them were intending to bowl over-arm off a long run-up.  I was nervous.

I’ll admit there was a learning curve.  One that saw my bowl skive off the green and into the path of someone else’s before high-tailing it to the gutter.  But the next one was better and, by some miracle, we won our match.  And the next one and the one after that.  Within an hour, we were in the grand final.  The atmosphere was electric.  The other team was taking things very seriously indeed, but our team held its nerve and we ultimately prevailed. 

As the medal declaring me ‘Lawn Bowls Champion – 2022’ was being hung around my neck, it occurred to me that I may have made a mistake.  Attending a sporting club function as the ‘plus one’ and designated driver, I had no business winning anything.  Much less winning against a group of highly competitive humans.  Mind you, I suspect I’ll have to return the medal once the results of the random drug test come back and it’s revealed that I was stone cold sober.

I wasn’t the only winner that night.  As I sat at our table, I watched as my partner collected a ‘golden boot’ award.  Unlike my medal, her trophy was hard earned and richly deserved.  It was quite a night.  And if you’d asked me a year ago whether being a ‘plus one’ at a sports team function held in a bowling club would be a glorious experience, I’d have thought you were mad.  It’s funny what time does.